Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Naper's Settlers Arrived at the DuPage River 179 Years Ago This Week


We don't know the exact date when Joseph Naper, his family and his friends arrived at the banks of the DuPage River, but it was most likely around July 15, 1831, according to several sources who were recorded some years after the event. That would be this week!

When Kate was researching and writing her first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, she made an effort to go out to a local prairie and see what it looked like in the middle of July to pick up details of what the settlers must have experienced.

Northern Illinois is pretty darn hot and humid in July. But 1831 happened to have been a relatively cool year. Spring was a long time coming and the sailing season on the Great Lakes started later than usual because the ice didn't break up at the normal time. Contemporary letters also mention a cool, wet June. It may have been fairly warm when Naper's group headed out from the Chicago settlement to walk to their new home, but the prairie must have been quite green and lovely still.

Chicago wasn't much of a place yet. There were only native wigwams and log homes. Mark Beaubien had started work on his Sauganash Tavern, which would be the first frame house in the area, but he wouldn't be done until autumn. Wagon-makers, and thus, wagons, were few, most likely owned by the folks who already lived here. They probably rented them out, but research shows that settlers often brought wagons with them when they came west by ship like Naper did.

They would remove the wheels and tie them to the masts. The square wagon box would be lashed to the deck with other cargo. Once at their destination, they could reassemble the wagons.

John Murray, Ruth's father and Joe Naper's brother-in-law, drove the settler's cattle overland from Ohio and was there to greet them when their ship arrived. Once the wagons were reassembled and packed, they hooked up the oxen John had brought to pull the wagons.

Most folks are aware that Chicago was a huge swamp and wagons had a lot of difficulty in the mud. Since it had been a late, wet spring, these settlers must have had a very difficult time of it. Research shows that often they would hitch several pairs of oxen to one wagon, pull it to drier ground, unhitch the oxen, and go back for the next wagon.

It took the settlers three days to walk the twenty-six miles to the DuPage River. With many wagons and an especially soggy swamp, they may still have been in site of Lake Michigan at the end of the first day!

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